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Farmcraft 2023: Innovative Approaches to Food Security Challenges

February 6, 2023

Program Overview

In response to climate change and the projected increase of the global population by two billion people, agricultural productivity will need to increase by 60% by the year 2050. To answer this challenge and increase capacity and knowledge to feed our future, the U.S. State Department’s Bureaus of Economic & Business Affairs and Educational & Cultural Affairs have partnered with the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) to launch the third annual global Farmcraft competition.

This esports event challenges teams of 8-18-year-old students to strategize and game these food security issues through a custom “world” built on the popular Minecraft Education platform.

Join us on Tuesday, March 7th at 10:00 AM EST for this live interactive event where we will present new and innovative applications of video gaming and Farmcraft esports competition as a creative way to increase STEM skill sets, increase awareness of agricultural design and workflows, and meet global food security challenges.

Lean more on the Farmcraft 2023 website: https://www.nasef.org/farmcraft

Featured Speakers

Whitney Baird

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, U.S. Department of State

Whitney Baird is the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Previously she served as Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Mission to the OECD, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for West Africa and Security Affairs in the Bureau of African Affairs, and Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Western Europe and European Union and Regional Affairs in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. She was Minister Counselor for Economic Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in London from 2014-2017. Prior to London Whitney Baird served in the Economic Bureau of the Department of State as Special Advisor for Trade Negotiations, Director for Multilateral Trade Affairs, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Trade, and Acting Special Representative for Commercial and Business Affairs. Ms. Baird has also served overseas in Madrid, Spain; Dakar, Senegal; Lomé, Togo; Toronto, Canada; and Yaoundé, Cameroon. She has served in Washington as Deputy Director of the State Department Operations Center, Senior Watch Officer, Secretariat Staff Officer, and Watch Officer. Ms. Baird graduated from the University of North Carolina with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She earned a master’s in international security studies from the National War College.


Gerald Solomon

Founder & Executive Director, North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF)

Gerald Solomon designed and launched the North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF) the nation’s first ever academic approach to esports, whose mission is to provide opportunities for ALL students to use esports as a platform to acquire the STEM skills needed for the workforce of tomorrow. Mr. Solomon serves on the Board of Directors of IESF (www.iefs.org) and as well serves as the Chair of the Esports Education Commission at IESF, the global leader in esports with 129+ member countries. He is Chair Emeritus of the University of Ca, Irvine Esports Advisory Board, and on the board of Calif Dept of Education Foundation. He recently completed service on the boards of the Schools of Engineering at UCLA and UCI, the Teacher Advisory Council at the National Research Council within the National Academies, Southern California Grantmakers Assoc., and was co-founder and funder as well as chair emeritus of the STEM Funders Network.


David Thompson

Instructional Coach for Technology, Jackson-Reed High School, Washington, D.C.

David Thompson is an Instructional Coach for Educational Technology at Jackson-Reed High School in Washington, DC. He focuses on implementing strategies that support the 1:1.1 student to computer program as well as teaching and learning strategies intended to bridge the technology gap in education. Previously, he worked in Academic Planning and Scheduling and Career and Technical Education for DC Public Schools where he focused on Mass Media, Technology, and the Construction Trades programs. Mr. Thompson holds degrees from Georgia Tech, Trinity University, and George Mason University.



Student and Team Captain, SMASH Team, Jackson-Reed High School, Washington, D.C.

Alexandre is a student at Jackson-Reed High School in Washington, D.C., captain of the Esports team, and an aspiring business owner and electrical engineer. His work as Esports team captain includes organizing events, documententing activities with images and video, and managing social media presences on Instagram and other platforms. Alexandre’s academic focus is on electrical engineering. He is also researching and designing customized gaming controllers accessible even to those with disabilities.


Claire LaBeaux

NASEF Chief Marketing Officer

Claire LaBeaux is the Chief Marketing Officer for NASEF. She has helped raise awareness of scholastic esports since the model “Orange County High School Esports League” was founded in 2018, and she has continued that role as the regional pilot grew to its current footprint as NASEF, the Scholastic Esports Federation headquartered in the United States with affiliates around the world. Claire amplifies the work of educators who leverage esports for combined play and meaningful learning. She also helps parents, administrators, and the esports industry understand the benefits of scholastic esports. Claire is program manager for Farmcraft, MENAcraft, Beyond the Game challenges, and other programs. Claire is a communicator and strategist with 20+ years of experience helping non-profits reach their goals by driving involvement and support. Her work spans STEM education and youth leadership organizations including NASEF, SciStarter, STEM Learning Ecosystems, US Army Educational Outreach Program, and Chief Science Officers.


Erik Leitner

Education Content Producer, Cleverlike Studios, Inc.

Erik Leitner is the Education Content Producer for Cleverlike Studios, a game-based learning organization utilizing popular video games in education. A graduate of Florida Atlantic University, Erik worked for Broward County Public Schools for 20 years; serving previously as a district STEM and Computer Science Instructional Facilitator, a school-based science educator, science coach, and STEM coach. Erik has developed national and international Minecraft challenges with North American Scholastic Esports Federation, and has been featured in the Washington Post and NBC 6 News Miami for his work using Minecraft Education with teachers and students.


Mark Burrell

Regional Public Engagement Specialist, West Africa, U.S. Embassy Dakar

Mark Burrell is a Regional Public Engagement Specialist (REPS) headed to Dakar, Senegal to manage Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Chad, The Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau. Previously, he served as the South Asia REPS based in New Delhi, India, and as the Caribbean REPS in Washington, D.C. Before joining the foreign service, Burrell worked in communications at the U.S. Agency for International Development. He is also a U.S. Army veteran with 22 years’ experience in public affairs with four combat deployments. Burrell holds a B.A. in English from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon and an M.A. in International Media from the School of International Service at American University in Washington, D.C. He is married and has a rambunctious Rhodesian Ridgeback.


Moderator: Loren Hurst

Bureau of Global Public Affairs, U.S. State Department

Loren Hurst is a strategic communications professional specializing in public diplomacy, government relations, and digital communications. He specializes in the strategic use of virtual technologies to engage stakeholders, research target audiences, and build reputation management solutions. Currently, he builds interactive virtual program strategies in the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Global Public Affairs where he focuses on science affairs, economics, and climate change outreach. Mr. Hurst holds degrees from the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium, and California State University, Fullerton.

Background Resources

Farmcraft 2023 Overview

Read about and explore how the world of esports fosters high quality education, develops key workforce skills, and creates unique opportunities for young people. Learn more


North America Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF)

NASEF, the founding organization of scholastic esports, provides opportunities for all students to use esports as a platform to develop STEAM-based skills and social emotional attributes such as communication, collaboration, and problem-solving abilities needed to thrive in work and in life. Learn more


Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs – The Office of American Spaces

American Spaces are the U.S. government’s primary public cultural and information centers abroad that provide free and open access for communities worldwide interested in learning more about the United States. Through people-to-people connections and modern environments equipped with advanced technologies, American Spaces serve as the initial experience that millions of global visitors have with the United States, building mutual understanding and partnership. Learn more


Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs

The Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs (EB) creates jobs at home, boosts economic opportunities overseas, and makes America more secure. EB promotes a strong American economy by leveling the playing field for American companies doing business in global markets, attracting foreign investors to create jobs in America, and deploying economic tools to deny financing to terrorists, human rights abusers, and corrupt officials. Learn more